Tag Archives: RPGs

Catching up: Hercules 2014 review

Where did the time go? It seems like only yesterday that I was planning to blog about the then-current genre television season, the various books and comics I've been reading, the convention scene, and upcoming movies and tabletop RPGs.

Granted, I've been busy with work, weekly games, and seasonal festivals, but before they all blur together in memory, let me review some recent films.

On Friday, 25 July 2014, I met Jason E.R. and his son Eric for dinner at Fuddrucker's and an IMAX 3-D showing of Hercules. We enjoyed this sword-and-sandals movie, which starred Dwayne "the Rock" Johnson.

Hercules 2014

Mighty heroes

Plot: Since I had read the Radical Comics miniseries this movie was based on, I wasn't surprised that the 12 labors of Herakles weren't as prominent as in the trailers. In fact, the plot takes the tack that the labors were exaggerated tales of a non-magical band of adventurers.

In this respect, I'd compare 2014's Hercules with the 2004 King Arthur, but with more of a sense of humor. Johnson already proved a worthy successor to Conan: the Barbarian's Arnold Schwarzenegger and Hercules: the Legendary Adventures/Kull the Conqueror's Kevin Sorbo in Scorpion King.

The Rock's shaky computer-animated avatar in The Mummy Returns was one of the few weak spots in that pulp adventure flick. I'd also compare Hercules favorably with the over-the-top 300: Rise of an Empire (but if you like Frank Miller, just wait for Sin City 2: A Dame to Kill For). I'd even argue that Hercules was more faithful in spirit, if not in specifics, to its source material than Jason Momoa's Conan or the dour Man of Steel.

Cast: Even if Hercules' script is occasionally weak or predictable, Johnson is ably supported by Ian McShane as fatalist mystic Amphiaraus, Rufus Sewell as mercenary Autolycus, and John Hurt as aged Lord Cotys. Joseph Fiennes follows in his brother's footsteps (Ralph was Voldemort in the Harry Potter franchise) as the scheming King Eurystheus.

The younger actors are also decent, including Askel Hennie as traumatized Viking Tydeus (it's fantasy, don't sweat it), Reece Ritchie as Hercules' kinsman and storyteller Iolaus, and Ingrid Bolso Berdal as the Amazonian Atalanta. The White Queen's Rebecca Ferguson is Princess Ergenia, and model Irina Shayk is Hercules' wife Megara. Some viewers will recognize character names from Greek mythology, TV's Legendary Adventures, or even the Disney animated musical, but this is a different take on most of them.

Direction/cinematography: It's too bad that years of computer-assisted effects have left us jaded to visions of monsters, large armies maneuvering on battlefields, and feats of strength and acrobatics. The action scenes in Hercules were generally well choreographed, and the movie was well paced.

I liked the glimpses of mythical beasts, the use of phalanx and archers on chariots, and even the cheesier moments of Hercules in chains. The Steve Reeves and Ray Harryhausen classics have nothing to worry about, but it's still nice to see a deconstruction that doesn't completely tear down fun, larger-than-life spectacle.

Rating: Jason, Eric, Byron V.O., and I all liked Hercules more than fellow role-player Rich C.G. I'd give Hercules a 7.5 out of 10, a solid "B," or four out of five stars. This is the sort of movie I'd classify as a "gamer flick," with an entertaining ensemble of misfits doing heroic deeds but not necessarily aspiring to subgenre greatness.

I've heard that this movie was better than the other Hercules film of earlier this year. Although Luc Besson and Scarlett Johannson's Lucy (more on that later) beat Hercules at the box office, I wouldn't mind seeing a sequel featuring Johnson and that first superhero team, Jason and the Argonauts. Now, who to cast?

Fun and games in June and July 2014

As usual, the start of summer has been busy. On Saturday, 21 June 2014, Janice and I went to the Compleat Strategist in Boston for Free RPG Day. We then met role-players Beruk A., Rich C.G., and some of Rich's friends at Pandemonium Books & Games in Cambridge, Mass.

I picked up free fantasy supplements for Castles & Crusades, Dungeon Crawl Classics, and Pathfinder, as well as quickstarters for the superhero Valiant Universe and cyberpunk/fantasy Shadowrun. Clearly, I'm still in a retro-clone, old-school Renaissance (OSR) frame of mind.

Other recent acquisitions include Arrows of Indra, Celestial Empire, and the FATE (Core) Freeport Companion, all of which should be useful for my long-running "Vanished Lands" campaign, which is currently using D20/FATE house rules.

As you may have seen by now, I ran four games in one week! After the latest Creation Star Trek convention in Boston (more on that later), I ran my usual "Vanished Lands: A New Dawn" telecom team on Sunday, June 22. The Player Characters encountered monsters while scouting an army approaching the city of Sogewa.

On Monday, June 23, the "Vanished Lands: Vistel's Expedition" face-to-face group continued its adventures. That adventuring party has traveled through time to free some slaves.

Byron V.O., an alumnus of the Boston-area groups who now lives in St. Louis and participates in "A New Dawn" via Skype, stayed with Janice and me after a business trip back east. On Friday, June 27, I ran an extra "Vistel's Expedition" session, and Byron and I were pleased at the strong turnout.

Byron V.O.'s June 2014 visit

"Vistel's Expedition," summer 2014

On Saturday, June 28, I ran "Star Trek: Restoration," and it was nice to host a smaller group for the first time since moving from Needham to Waltham, Mass. The crew of the U.S.S. Rotha was involved in a tense standoff with Romulan warbirds!

After that afternoon session, we met Thomas K.Y. & Kai-Yin H. and Josh C. for a solid Italian dinner at Fiorella's in Newton. Byron, who is always a good houseguest and fun gaming companion, left on Sunday, June 29.

On Monday, June 30, Josh ran a one-shot of Tianxia: Blood, Silk & Jade, using FATE Core (reminding me of what I like and what I'd tweak). That wuxia (Asian-style fantasy) scenario was among the one-shots and miniseries my groups have tried out each summer in between longer campaigns.

Pregenerated P.C.s for "Hammer, Don't Touch This!" — Josh C.'s Tianxia one-shot at Brian W.'s home in Newton, Mass.:

  • "Ma Wei Sheng" [Gene D.]-male eastern human, wandering nobleman, taciturn warrior determined to get out from his family's shadow and make a name for himself
  • "Smiling Ox" [Beruk A.]-male human, master of the Demon Hammer, boastful brute with large appetites and a heart of gold
  • "Sister Chuntao" [Brian W.]-female human, Bodhist nun and former thief, conscious of checkered past and seeking harmony, with monkey Sun
  • "Jasmina" [Sara F.]-female tiger, talking animal with scars and a strong sense of justice
  • "Han 'Dragon Dog' Ping" [Bruce K.]-male human, enthusiastic young adventurer and working-class hero
  • "Yee Wong" [Rich C.G.]-male human, old Daoist wizard, immortal but absent-minded and irascible alchemist
  • "Wolf-Eyed Yue" [Brian S.]-female human, wild woman and member of the secret White Widow sect devoted to helping women defend themselves

The Boston-area and telecom games took a break around the Independence Day weekend, during which Janice and I hosted one of our nieces. During the latest "JasonCon" on Monday, July 7, Jason E.R. (whose "Glassworks: the Devil's Den" superhero scenario using Icons: Great Power recently ended) graciously hosted Rich's School Daze, a narrative, rules-light game typically focusing on high school archetypes.

P.C.s for Rich C.G.'s third School Daze session, held in Reading, Mass.:

  • "Emo Wallach" [Gene D.]-male human goth, junior at Trowbridge High School specializing in art and comfortable in dank spaces; discovered a dead dog and classmate during a stormy night at Camp Crystal Lake; later a friend of "Reasonable Squid" reporter Cynthia Hoskins
  • "Chuck Taylor" [Jason E.R.]-male human jock, Trowbridge senior and friend of "Fighting Krakens" water polo Coach Bronkowski and his bullying son Murphy, helped defeat a homicidal alien with surprise tire-iron attacks; after a change of heart, became a nerd defender
  • "Brandon Shaw" [Bruce K.]-male human, shop yank and Trowbridge junior, prone to bad humor; fancies himself a ladies' man and good with an axe in a scrap
  • "Alan Morris" [Brian S.]-male human Trowbridge senior and budding filmmaker; friend of Henry Lee Jackson, an old hermit with a hook hand; recorded attack by assistant camp leader "Ms. Bellum," who was actually a mantis-like alien; dating Chuck's younger sister Tracy
  • "Feskilado 'Fesky' Mepeselph" [Erik R.]-male human Trowbridge senior, science and clank/electronics expert; snuck pet dogs and cat into camp; later found beheaded, and cat Severus was revealed as an alien guardian

I expect "A New Dawn" to resume this coming Sunday, July 13, and Bruce K. will begin his "Eberron/Pathfinder: Reign of Winter" miniseries next Monday. So many games, so little time!

In related news, the Dungeons & Dragons (5e/"Next") Basic Rules have been released. While there are no earth-shattering revelations, especially after a lengthy playtest period, I'm pleased that Wizards of the Coast released this as a free PDF.

As I've noted elsewhere, this looks closer to what I would have preferred for D&D4e, with a mix of AD&D2 style and D&D3.5/D20/4e rules. We'll still have to wait and see whether D&D5e will tempt role-players away from Pathfinder, OSR, and various indie systems.

"Vanished Lands: Vistel's Expedition" Session 39.37 — Hidden doors and dracosaurs

Fellow role-players, here are my notes for “Vanished Lands” Session 39.37, which Brian W. hosted in Newton, Mass., on Monday, 14 April 2014:

In one ancient world, there was a region where strange majicks and demihuman races thrived. The “Vanished Lands” were blessed by the gods and cursed by prophecy. Travelers became adventurers, and adventurers strove to be heroes in the face of many perils and wonders.

Various groups of mercenaries and diplomats have fought humanoids in the northwestern borderlands, encountered pirates on the Sea of Nagendwa, and wandered the hostile Halmed Desert and the wide Plains of Sathendo….

“Vistel’s Circus,” Player Character Party 39 in Gene D.’s " Vanished Lands " heroic fantasy campaign, using the Basic Fantasy Role-Playing Game and FATE 3e Legends of Anglerre, as of spring 2014:

  • Giacomo ‘the Mysterious’ Du Vane [Beruk A.]-male Hifalendorin human Mage (Gypsy Wizard) and stage seer, embittered by experiences in Hesolin’s Magisterium; with homunculus familiar Gerald; NGc, Lvl. 8
  • Hamfast Hammerfist [Brian W.]-male Zeda (proto-Germanic) human Fighter, mountaineer, “barbarian” strongman, and laborer; TNg, Lvl. 8
  • Scully Strongbow [Sara F.]-female albino Gnoll (Flind) Ranger, archer, knife thrower, and scout, with owl “Owlicious”; NGl, Lvl. 8
  • Corwin Windsong [Bruce K.]-male Half-Elf Bard, runaway aristocrat, ladies’ man, and former ringmaster with a mandolin; CNg, Lvl. 8
  • Elsa Fairbottom [Rich C.G.]-female Hill Dwarf Druid outcast, cook/brewer, and animal handler with Banuq (winged cat) Penryn; NGc, Lvl. 8
  • Tempestade [Josh C.]-male Barbari human Monk (Battledancer/capoeirista from outside the “Vanished Lands”), former roustabout, now a follower of Otih; CGl, Lvl. 8
  • Radius [Jason E.R./departed]-male Modron Paladin of Primus, lord of Nirvana; exiled to the Prime Material plane; LGn, Lvl. 5
  • Sir Torrel [Alex W./departed]-male Hifalendorin human Paladin of Otih, the lord of the sun and justice; LGn, Lvl. 7

“1 to 2 March 1227 B.C.E.:” The infiltrators continued exploring the tunnels of Mt. Tilefa on Salhonif Island. They chatted with Gargoyles and Troglodytes, evaded traps and Ogres, and fought a librarian/sorceress. They also defeated flesh golems before resting, deep in a Temple of Elemental Evil.

The adventuring party recuperates from recent skirmishes in a dark vestibule. One passage has doglike figurines on pedastals and Walls of Force, another leads to a hexagonal chamber with a black orb, and the last leads back through a purple-carpeted passage with statues in alcoves.

Giacomo manifests a third eye to peer around, and Hamfast looks at three levers behind a curtain on one wall. Scully looks for illusions with the Lens of True Sight, while Tempestade keeps watch. Corwin dismisses Herme, the Girallon (four-armed gorilla) he had charmed, and searches for traps. Elsa also tries to decipher the switches.

Despite his companions’ warnings, Hamfast pulls on the left lever. A stone column rises out of the floor near the door to the hexagonal room. The middle switch raises a second column next to the door. The Zeda human resets the first two levers and pulls just the third, and a horn sounds.

As Gnoll Scully predicts, when the three levers are pulled from left to right, a portal appears between them, obscuring the unholy shrine with the dark cyst. Giacomo and Corwin step through first and are attacked by three Wights.

Half-Elf Corwin casts Fireball, damaging the Undead, but he is weakened by their chill touch. Hill Dwarf Elsa Wild Shapes into a bird of prey, and Hifalendorin human Giacomo destroys all three Wights with Magic Missiles.

Elsa flies up with a rope, and the group climbs out of a volcanic crater. Unfortunately, two huge reptiles are waiting for them — strange crossbreeds of dinosaurs (found in Salhonif Isle’s jungles) and black dragons!

Dragon-dinosaur crossbreed


One dracosaur breathes acid, burning Hamfast and Scully. Tempestade uses hisRing of Jumping and Boots of Spider Climb to get on the monster’s back. Pious Elsa invokes goddess Mekkil (Gaia) for a Healing Burst to aid her companions.

Giacomo shields the team with a Wall of Force, and Corwin’s Disintegrate injures one of the creatures. Scully uses the Lens of True Sight to discern that the larger dracosaur is more like a dragon and the other is less intelligent. Hamfast swings his maul at the leg of the winged beast.

The dinodrag grabs Hamfast in its mouth! The Fighter narrowly avoids being swallowed whole by keeping the haft of his hammer in its jaws. The dracosaur with Tempestade on its back yells at the martial artist and claws at Scully.

Tempestade chokes the creature with his chain, and Druid Elsa Wild Shapes into an elephant. Wizard Giacomo casts Ray of Enfeeblement on the reptile holding Hamfast, slowing it. Bard Corwin defensively casts Mirror Image, creating four duplicates of himself.

Ranger Scully looses a volley of arrows, and Hamfast pulls himself clear of the toothy maw and backs up with a spear. The dracosaur strikes Corwin’s duplicates, as the dinodrag swings at Elsa. Tempestade continues choking the latter lizard and jumps clear when elephantine Elsa charges and knocks it down.

Giacomo successfully casts Paralysis on the dinodrag and Magic Missile on the dracosaur. Corwin hits with his sword and dagger. Scully shoots more arrows, and Elsa tramples her foe. Hamfast cooly finishes off the two creatures and claims some teeth.

Gerald, Giacomo’s homunculus familiar, removes the dead dinosaurs’ eyes, and Scully takes some hides. She and Sir Torrel attend to the wounded. Elsa spots a concealed door, and Corwin finds a polished stone set in brass like a knob on the opposite wall.

Corwin puts the knob on the door. The Saganim prince barely dodges a spike trap. A man wearing a horned helmet and a loose robe floats toward the spelunkers. He says that they will soon serve his master, the Pit Fiend Schm*ckF*ck, or realize their worst nightmares.

Before the cultist can cast any deadly spells, Elsa restrains him with Hold Person. Corwin ties a rope around the hovering man and pulls him down. Hamfast, Scully, and Tempestade help disarm Tychon Doomdreamer, and Giacomo tries to blind him with Color Spray.

Further interrogation reveals that Tychon is insane and homicidal, and Corwin dispatches him. The devil worshipper’s possessions include a censor and three balls of odiferious incense, a potion of Haste (given to nimble Tempestade), and enchanted full plate (+2, claimed by mighty Hamfast).

Cautious Giacomo puts 30 crowns (gold pieces) in the party pool, and Elsa studies an unholy symbol of a crescent moon or horns with a bloody spike. Perceptive Scully notes that the party still needs to find the contract binding Lady Shadira, an Efreeti trapped in Shambling Mound form.

Tempestade had promised to help free the devil’s slave as part of his quest to return his distant homeland via a magical obelisk in the barbaric port of Gisar. Corwin turns the knob to the left, and the door opens into a well-furnished room, probably Tychon’s quarters.

Giacomo ignores the tattoo of “Mad Mage” Ezra on his back and claims the bed for a nap. The others search a dresser and chest. They find 450 crowns, an ornate bracelet worth 240 g.p., and a potion of Darkvision. Corwin uses a wand of Dispel Magic to circumvent wards on a case containing scrolls of Commune, Heroes’ Feast, and Raise Dead.

Under a false bottom in one drawer, Scully finds the insane Cleric’s journal and a partial map of the volcanic warrens. Hamfast recommends resting in the room, which is hidden and defensible.

The spellcasters recommend trying to turn the knob the other way and find a passage leading to other parts of the Temple of Elemental Evil….

Alex, we miss “Sir Torrel,” but we wish you luck with work and your Saturday group! While I won’t be running the “Vanished LandsA New Dawn” telecom game this coming Sunday, April 20, I look forward to seeing some of you next Monday night.

"Vanished Lands: A New Dawn" Session 40.13 — Tower and Tong

Fellow role-players, here are my notes for “Vanished Lands” Session 40.13, which was held on Sunday, 9 March 2014:

Long ago in a distant land, spirits and men directly traded bamboo, silk, and steel. Wars to the west, twisted monsters, and power-hungry sorcerers threatened the eastern kingdoms, so the call went out for new heroes of honor and tact….

Player Character Party 40 in Gene D.’s Vanished Lands: A New Dawn” Asian-style telecom campaign, using the Basic Fantasy Role-Playing Game and Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (1st Ed.) Oriental Adventures, plus house rulesSkype, and an online dice roller, as of spring 2014:

  • Souji Nobuto ‘Sonny’ Yoshimitsu [Beruk A.]-male Shengtese Tian Kensai (eastern human weapon master) from a dishonored house in the Lion Clan, specializing in chain weapons; LNg, Lvl. 4
  • Toshiharu ‘Toshi’ Sembutsu [Byron V.O.]-male Shan Sao Wu Jen (eastern Halfling Wizard) from the Tiger Clan with a destiny; NGc, Lvl. 4
  • Ember Talon [Sara F.]-female Crane Hengeyokai Wu (shapeshifting Druid), actually a young gold dragon banished from the Celestial Court; NGl, Lvl. 4
  • Saigo Kasugi [Bruce K.]-male Bamboo Spirit Folk Samurai (eastern Sylvan Elf Cavalier) discreetly serving his daimyo; LNg, Lvl. 4
  • Soske’ Tiatoshe [Geoff C.]-male Shengtese Tian Shukenja (eastern human Cleric), priest of Shang-ti and animist from the Phoenix Clan, prophesied to do great things; LNg, Lvl. 4
  • Moon Jung-mo [Dexter V.H.]-male Nannuattan Ninja (Msamaki, eastern Dark Elf Assassin) who has left the Shadow’s Claw clan and is posing as a River Spirit Folk Yakuza (eastern Grey Elf Rogue); LNg, Lvl. 4

“12 to 16 April 1227 B.C.E.:” The wanderers questioned bandit Shiskikura Eiji about Undead farmers, and they smote ghoulish children at another abandoned farm. After confronting an angry mob of villagers, the group found and slayed three witches before deciding to leave Chin Mok.

Rather than stop in the villages of Chung Kwang Shui or Honeize, the team escorting Nannuattan emissary Lady Yun Aei-Yong decides to head directly across the eastern Plains of Sathendo. The town of Kuan Chou is 540 li (about 120 miles) east of Chin Mok, and a canal leads 224 li (50 miles) from it to Sogewa, the capital of Tong Sheng.

For the first time in weeks, the party rides across the wide-open grasslands without being attacked by bandits, Undead, or summoned monsters. The spring rains, however, slow their horses and Jung-Mo’s carriage, in which Lady Yun and her Draconian bodyguard Oh Kum Ja ride.

That night, Ember finds a campsite partly sheltered from the rain. While on first watch, Saigo notices Jung-Mo looking at a large egg inside a lacquered box. Saigo inquires about the unidentified brown and blue egg, and Jung-Mo asks him to keep it between them.

Later, during a thunderstorm, lightning illuminates a tower on a nearby hill. Sonny and Ember wake Saigo to report what they saw, and he agrees that it may be worth investigating on the way the next morning.

Toshi and Soske’ spot lights in the pagoda during the third and final watch of the night. The next morning, Jung-Mo and Toshi scout ahead. The Yakuza is stealthy, and the Wu Jen casts Chameleon for camouflage.

Jung-Mo senses movement within the stone tower and begins scaling it. Toshi casts Know History and learns that the pagoda is named Kai Sou Xian Haknam, or “the castle of Master Haknam.”

Unfortunately, Jung-Mo kicks out a loose brick and has to use Levitate to keep from falling or being seen by a guard. Toshi hides and Detects Magic from a number of sources. Wu Ember shifts into crane form and flies overhead to check on her companions.

They regroup with Saigo, Soske’ and the horses. The adventuring party decides to give the tower a wide berth. Samurai Saigo recognizes a pennant flying from the top as belonging to Zhan-Shi Hu Ho, a disgraced officer in the Shengtese army.

The next night, Spirit Folk Saigo and Jung-Mo hear animals but are not attacked during their watch. The caravan continues eastward, with no other people in sight. The Kwang Shui, Hothe, and Kuo Lui streams are easily forded, and the diplomatic escort arrives at the bustling town of Kuan Chou.

Shengtese humans Sonny and Soske’ know their way around. The Kensai is wary of certain clans, and the Shukenja hopes to avoid his meddling family. Shan Sao Toshi practices his martial arts in the morning with Sonny and asks about a Magisterium (magic school).

Saigo talks with Lady Yun about her plans for Sogewa. The representative of Gokuri says that she shouldn’t need an escort as she relays the truce to Duke Kou Fei Seng, but she will eventually need to travel north, to Bazran Hai in Saigo’s homeland of the Zedu kingdom.

Like Jung-Mo and Saigo, Ember hasn’t been to a large human city before, so she hopes to go sightseeing. While Saigo is still searching for his missing grandfather, Hengeyokai Ember wants to evade notice.

Saigo, Toshi, and Soske’ report to the local garrison at Kuan Chou. They meet Hiroshi Sanlang, a young warrior who recommends the “Happy Duck” hotel. The trio also passes vagrants and searches for a Magisterium but finds none.

Meanwhile, Ember, Sonny, and Jung-Mo stay with Lady Yun and Oh Kum Ja at the town gate. Chain master Sonny observes Monks among the street performers and acrobats, and Druid Ember looks out for fellow shapeshifters. Merchant Jung-Mo points out gangs of young men who might belong to the Tong or Yakuza.

Ember notices that the carriage’s curtain pulled aside, and Sonny asks Lady Yun to be more discreet. He leaves Jung-Mo at the reins as he runs after someone suspicious who has spotted the Dark Elf. After a brief chase, Sonny corners the man in an alley.

The goon tries to shove Sonny into a wall, but the Kensai dodges and punches him in the stomach. Despite being winded, the man calls for help and pulls a balisong (butterfly knife) from his orange sash.

Saigo, Toshi, and Jung-Mo return to the carriage and horses, and Ember sends Saigo and Toshi after Sonny. Ember and Jung-Mo look for a stable to get out of the street, while the others ask a beggar for directions.

Sonny tries to sweep his opponent’s leg, but he is nimble. Sonny strikes twice as Toshi and Saigo race members of the town guard to the scene. Wizard Toshi casts Updraft, lifting the man 30 feet and dropping him.

Saigo stalls the police by explaining how his friend was almost mugged. They find the man in the orange sash with broken bones. The sentries send for a healer and take the unconscious man into custody, but they also ask the knight and company to stay in town for a day or so in case they have further questions.

The travelers go to the “Happy Duck,” where they plan to take a barge on the canal between the Chuan Hosun and Chung Hsien rivers to speed their trip from Kuan Chou to Sogewa, capital of the Principality of Silado….

Remember to review your Player Character records on Obsidian Portal and let me know of any changes. In addition, note that our next “A New Dawn” virtual session on Sunday, 16 March 2014, will start a little later, around 7:30 p.m. Eastern time, because I’ll be getting back from a concert.

I also enjoyed last night’s “Vanished Lands: Vistel’s Circus” face-to-face game, and I look forward to resuming Jason E.R.’s “Glassworks: the Devil’s Den” superhero scenario next Monday. Don’t forget to reply to Thomas K.Y. regarding upcoming movies.

"Vanished Lands: Vistel's Circus," Session 39.34 — The circle of death

Fellow role-players, here are my notes for “Vanished Lands” Session 39.34, which Brian W. hosted in Newton, Mass., on Monday, 3 March 2014:

In one ancient world, there was a region where strange majicks and demihuman races thrived. The “Vanished Lands” were blessed by the gods and cursed by prophecy. Travelers became adventurers, and adventurers strove to be heroes in the face of many perils and wonders.

Various groups of mercenaries and diplomats have fought humanoids in the northwestern borderlands, encountered pirates on the Sea of Nagendwa, and wandered the hostile Halmed Desert and the wide Plains of Sathendo….

“Vistel’s Circus,” Player Character Party 39 in Gene D.’s " Vanished Lands " heroic fantasy campaign, using the Basic Fantasy Role-Playing Game, as of spring 2014:

  • Giacomo ‘the Mysterious’ Du Vane [Beruk A.]-male Hifalendorin human Mage (Gypsy Wizard) and stage seer, embittered by experiences in Hesolin’s Magisterium; with homunculus familiar Gerald; NGc, Lvl. 7
  • Hamfast Hammerfist [Brian W.]-male Zeda (proto-Germanic) human Fighter, mountaineer, “barbarian” strongman, and laborer; TNg, Lvl. 7
  • Scully Strongbow [Sara F.]-female albino Gnoll (Flind) Ranger, archer, knife thrower, and scout, with owl “Owlicious”; NGl, Lvl. 7
  • Corwin Windsong [Bruce K.]-male Half-Elf Bard, runaway aristocrat, ladies’ man, and former ringmaster with a mandolin; CNg, Lvl. 7
  • Elsa Fairbottom [Rich C.G.]-female Hill Dwarf Druid outcast, cook/brewer, and animal handler with Banuq (winged cat) Penryn; NGc, Lvl. 7
  • Tempestade [Josh C.]-male Barbari human Monk (Battledancer/capoeirista from outside the “Vanished Lands”), former roustabout, now a follower of Otih; CGl, Lvl. 7
  • Sir Torrel [Alex W.]-male Hifalendorin human Paladin of Otih, the lord of the sun and justice; LGn, Lvl. 7
  • Radius [Jason E.R./departed]-male Modron Paladin of Primus, lord of Nirvana; exiled to the Prime Material plane; LGn, Lvl. 5
Zebra and hyena

On the savannas of Salhonif Island

“19 to 24 February 1227 B.C.E.:” On Salhonif Island, the explorers visited Estu, a village of civilized apes. They found Reptile Folk ruins, a disguised spy of the devil in the Ibafen Mountains, and a ziggurat with an idol and the Eye of Heaven, a magical gem possibly protecting the apes.

“Vistel’s Expedition” heads northwest toward the city-state of Selifa, across savannah rather than jungles. Scully and scout Makena Walabu lead the way across the dry grasslands. Giacomo’s back itches because the “Mad Mage” Ezra trapped in his tattoo senses the evil temple at volcanic Mt. Tilefa.

Hamfast explains to Elsa that their adventuring party chose the plains route over the rain forest because the latter has more spies of the Pit Fiend. Corwin reminds his companions that their primary mission is to get help from Queen Zapanga to find and free Lady Shadira, an Efreeti trapped in Shambling Mound form by devil Schm*ckF*ck.

Tempestade considers his plans to free fellow slaves from his own time by using a magical obelisk in the barbaric port of Gisar. He and Sir Torrel guard the porters and supplies.

The onetime performers’ hike is interrupted by seven hyenas. Flind Scully tries to warn them off with a snarl, but yelps indicate that the predators are surrounding the caravan. Hill Dwarf Elsa tries to Speak With Animals, but the hungry beasts continue to tighten their noose.

Hifalendorin human Giacomo casts Magic Missile, immediately killing three hyenas. Corwin wants to try Fireball, but the Ranger and Druid recommend against that in the dry brush. The Half-Elf instead casts Mirror Image.

Elsa Summons Woodland Beings, and two baobab Treants appear. Scully slays two of her distant cousins with arrows. Zeda human Hamfast swings his maul, mainly to clear the tall grasses around them and to fend off the creatures.

Tempestade, Sir Torrel, and Makena try to protect the porters. The pack runs around the large Treants. Elsa Wild Shapes into a lioness, and the remaining hyenas reluctantly lope away to rejoin the circle of life and death.

The Treants also leave. Scully uses the Lens of True Sight to verify that the dead are actually animals and not humanoid slaves or spies Polymorphed by the Baatezu.

That night, Elsa casts Grove of Respite, which creates fruit-bearing trees and a pool of potable water in the middle of the savannah! Hamfast and Corwin take the first watch and worry about disease-bearing insects and ravenous dinosaurs.

During the second watch, Giacomo and Scully hear the thunder of approaching hooves. A herd of zebras, which they have never seen before, streams around the camp. One of the striped equines at the back of the stampede falls, writhing in pain.

Ranger Scully wakes Bard Corwin, and they sneak out for a better look. The hapless zebra is covered in swarming army ants, which threaten to engulf those outside the oasis. The spellcasters protect themselves — Wizard Giacomo casts Invisibility, and Druid Elsa casts Repel Vermin.

Elsa then runs to the zebra to cast Cure Light Wounds, and Corwin casts Fly to stay above most of the insects. Giacomo joins him with Levitation. Scully runs back to the camp, where Fighter Hamfast and the others stay asleep.

Elsa uses Commune With Nature to assess the local area and sends the zebra back to its herd. Scully notes that other predators may still cull it, but that’s the way of nature.

The next day, the group beholds Selifa’s white stone walls. Guide Makena says that not only is the ancient city-state on the Bisuna River, but it’s also located where the plains, forest, and mountains come together, enabling farmers, hunters, and herders to coexist and contribute.

Corwin asks Makena about local inns, and she names the “Agali’s Cape” and the “Tilefa’s Tears.” The expedition goes to the first one to try dinner. Yetunde, the matronly proprietor, welcomes the visitors in Suthern.

Giacomo burns his tongue on spicy food, but Hamfast enjoys the shared meal enough to recommend staying at “Agali’s Cape.” Scully doesn’t like Yetunde’s wide hat and takes particular interest in the brontosaurus carpaccio.

Corwin offends their host by asking for female companionship for the night, so Elsa smoothes over the faux pas and trades plum wine for date wine. Makena later reports that the “Tilefa’s Tears” is quieter, but the group is satisfied with its choice.

The travelers retire to one of Yetunde’s guest houses, which has a fire pit surrounded by concentric clay ledges. The bottom one is for sitting by the fire and eating, the next ones are for storage, and the top tier has pillows and blankets for sleeping.

The next day, the former members of Vistel’s Circus hire a young man to wait in line to get them a royal audience. They then go to one of Selifa’s bustling markets. Coffee, chocolate, tropical fruit, and exotic stews fill the air with fragrance.

Most of the people are colorfully clad humans of certain tribes, with some tall plainsfolk, robed coastal traders, or stocky jungle dwellers. There are also Lizard People and a few demihumans in the city, including Agogwe (Halflings), Kitunusi (Gnomes), Ngoloko (Orcs), Utuchekulu (Dwarves), and Wakyambi (Elves; see D20 Nyambe).

Kobolds lurk in alleyways as bright clothes hang overhead. Elsa talks with Uzoma, an Utuchekulu whose tribe worships a mountain orisha. Her talk of sacrifices scares away the rest of the party. Giacomo buys spell components.

Hamfast buys souvenir fetishes and a flute, and Scully inquires about dyes and jewelry. She learns that gold and diamonds are somewhat more common in the Zarendo Islands than on the mainland, but iron and pearls are rarer and thus more valued.

Musa, an Ngoma (Bard), tells Corwin that artists gather in front of the palace each night to perform and compete for audience favor and coin. Elsa buys a bagpipe, and Corwin practices on the drums.

Hamfast and Elsa also notice various temples to the Zarendo pantheon. Elsa buys a long masterwork shield to present to Queen Zapanga. Giacomo and his homunculus familiar Gerald busy themselves enchanting his Wizard’s Staff.

Akinwole, who had waited in line, promises the outlanders that he will obtain a royal audience for the next day. As dusk falls, crowds move from the market to near the palace, where drummers and dancers quicken the pulse.

Hamfast and Elsa enjoy street food, while Elsa realizes that she needs to practice the bagpipe. Corwin strums his mandolin, and even though most of the islanders don’t understand what the Saganim prince is singing, they appreciate his melodies.

“Vistel’s Expedition” returns to the “Agali’s Cape” to await its summons to Selifa’s royal court….

I look forward to seeing everyone’s “Vanished Lands” characters in the new D20/FATE format on Obsidian Portal soon. Let me know if you need any help or if there are any people, sites, or items you’ll be looking for in Selifa before next Monday’s game.

In the meantime, I also look forward to our upcoming “Vanished LandsA New Dawn” and Jason E.R.’s “Glassworks: the Devil’s Den” sessions, as well as non-gaming events.